7:00am Saturday 9th March 2013
A look at the latest releases, plus what's new in paperback.
By Kate Whiting
Harvest by Jim Crace is published in hardback by Picador, priced £16.99 (ebook £7.26). Available now.
The title Harvest does little to convey the myriad of concepts at the core of this compelling tale.
Change, progress, acceptance - they're all here, woven skilfully by award-winning writer Jim Crace into a timeless story that everyone can relate to.
In this, we're taken through a week-long journey of life in an unnamed English village set sometime in the medieval age, told through the eyes of widower Walter Thirsk.
After harvesting season ends, a group of strangers arrive, and the suspicion they provoke in the villagers eventually leads into a series of events that change the inhabitants' lives forever.
Thought-provoking and poetically written with a profound attention to detail, Crace creates an intriguing moral fable that will stay with you long after you've finished the last page.
It's certainly another enchanting novel to add to his growing catalogue of best-sellers.
8/10 (Review by Mary Ann Pickford) Human Remains by Elizabeth Haynes is published in paperback by Myriad, priced £7.99 (ebook £6.07). Available now.
How well do you know your neighbours? Would you notice if you didn't see them for a while - or be unaware that anything was amiss until a bad smell began to linger?
Those are the questions that this pacy new thriller, in which a policewoman discovers that dozens of people aren't found until months after death, aims to answer. Is there something sinister going on?
In this - her third thriller in as many years - Elizabeth Haynes plays with society's mistrust of the loner.
Her well-drawn central characters explore the mechanics of loneliness and despair, while the action - and there's enough of that - taps into the deep-seated fear of dying alone.
From the gruesome opening gambit to the thrilling denouement, this might not be one for the fainthearted (or lonely), but it's very hard to leave it alone.
7/10 (Review by Sarah Warwick)
The Library Of Unrequited Love by Sophie Divry is published in hardback by MacLehose Press, priced £10 (ebook £6.33) Available now.
Sophie Divry's first novel is a conversation between a librarian and a reader who she finds has been locked inside the library overnight - except only the librarian's dialogue is recorded.
The librarian loves her job but is bitter that she is running the geography section in the basement rather than the exciting history shelves.
She explains the Dewey system to her customer in detail and laments that regular library user Martin fails to respond to the fact she loves him - despite only having spoken to him once.
At 92 pages, this is easy to read. But it's also easy to put down, as the librarian's ramblings are annoying and her bizarre ideas are distracting rather than thought-provoking.
This really could have worked but, unfortunately, it doesn't.
4/10 (Review by Caroline Davison)
Children's book of the week: Infinite Sky by CJ Flood is published in hardback by Simon & Schuster, priced £9.99 (ebook £5.99). Available now.
Infinite Sky is a poignant coming-of-age debut from writer CJ Flood.
It tells the story of 13-year-old Iris's summer after her mother leaves home and gypsies set up camp behind her house.
The book starts with a funeral, leaving the reader guessing whether it will be her new gypsy boyfriend or tearaway brother in the coffin.
When the book comes full circle at the end, only the stoniest of hearts won't feel the pain experienced by the young protagonist.
Aimed at a young adult audience, Infinite Sky is gripping but realistic. It goes much further than your typical teen love story, unravelling the complexity of real-life romances, as opposed to the sugar-coated fantasy we have become accustomed to.
The book has already received glowing reviews, and it's not hard to see why.
Infinite Sky flows nicely from page to page and is an easy, heart-felt, engaging read for teenage or twenty-something readers.
7/10 (Review by Nicole Gallagher)
Non-fiction Return Of A King: The Battle For Afghanistan by William Dalrymple is published in hardback by Bloomsbury, priced £25 (ebook £12.44). Available now.
William Dalrymple has always been able to write but his latest work is a triumph of reading and research.
He seems to have read every record - in English or otherwise - about the first British invasion of Afghanistan, and traced every step of the soldiers who invaded in triumph in 1839, only to be slaughtered during a disastrous retreat two years later.
But this is no boring academic tome, Dalrymple brings to life the imperial intrigues of the spies who advanced ahead of the armies and the rival families who struggled for power at court.
His fluent style makes the 600-plus pages a pleasure to read and there is enough here to pull in readers who would never normally pick up a hefty history book.
He does not make too much of our current predicament in Afghanistan, but paints a picture of a country that is easier to invade than it is to leave.
8/10 (Review by Robert Dex)
Pondlife: A Swimmer's Journal by Al Alvarez is published in hardback by Bloomsbury, priced £14.99 (ebook £9.44). Available now.
Age is creeping up on Al Alvarez, and is bringing with it a fair few surprises which he's finding tough, particularly his declining mobility and fitness.
However, there are two things he can still do - writing, and swimming in London's Hampstead and Highgate ponds.
The premise of the book is simple: Alvarez, an established poet, novelist and essayist, documents his regular, sometimes daily, visits to the ponds, with snippets of his life on dry land.
As age continues to take its toll, his al fresco dips become ever more vital. Therapeutic, they soothe his gammy ankle and aching bones, revive his sense of control over his ever-changing body, and provide crucial, albeit mini, bursts of adrenalin for a man who once got his kicks by climbing mountains.
This is particularly so for the winter swims - Alvarez prefers the pond icy and crisp. "It's good for the soul as well as the body, and cheaper than psychoanalysis," he writes.
He also ponders how the world suddenly becomes sweeter, more beautiful, just as you're about to leave it, and your body's becoming gradually more troublesome.
Indeed, Alvarez's subtle observations of his surroundings, the birds he shares his pond with, fellow swimmers, lifeguards and his family, and anything else that fleetingly crosses his path, are beautiful.
No matter what havoc the years wreak on his body, his attention to detail, and knack for capturing in words the consuming link between the physical and mental, are possibly at their strongest ever.
Alvarez writes as an ageing athlete, an adventurous soul forced to adapt to the limitations of his octogenarian body.
Pondlife is no doubt an insightful, honest account of getting old, speckled with humour and affection. But his sentiments ring true on a much wider level too.
As a reader a good four decades younger than Alvarez, his journal had me gripped, moved and yearning for a swim.
10/10 (Review by Abi Jackson)
The Diaries Of A Fleet Street Fox is published in paperback by Constable, priced £8.99 (ebook £5.55). Available now.
Having built up a huge following for her acerbic blog and tweets, The Fleet Street Fox has now outed herself as former Sunday Mirror reporter Susie Boniface, a tabloid hack for nearly 20 years.
Her first book promises to be The Truest Tabloid Tale You'll Ever Read but first and foremost, it's the tale of her messy divorce from the man she calls only 'Twatface'.
The book starts with her in a cell, having been arrested for throwing a flower pot through the window of the woman her husband is cheating on her with.
Each chapter is headed with the number of days since this incident, sparked when Boniface channelled all her reporter skills into exposing her wayward husband and tracking him down.
We're introduced to the colourful bunch of misfits that constitute her newsroom colleagues and get a warts 'n' all glimpse of tabloid life - and the trials of divorce.
She's a feisty one and is at her funniest when using her husband's toothbrush to clean the toilet or describing the games, banter and general drunkenness of the newsroom.
But her endless stream of consciousness over why her husband was so mean, while at first is refreshing, can become laboured towards the end, when you're rooting for her to move on, finally get over him and embrace singledom.
8/10 (Review by Kate Whiting)
The Wet And The Dry: A Drinker's Journey by Lawrence Osborne is published in paperback by Harvill Secker, priced £12.99 (ebook £8.54). Available now.
In this travelogue-cum-memoir, Osborne takes us on a whirlwind tour of Dubai, Oman, Istanbul, Egypt, Pakistan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Thailand, Milan, London, New York and the Scottish Isles.
He explores how Muslim hostility to the Western way of life finds its focus in alcohol, contrasting the alcohol-soaked West with Islamic eastern states, where to even ask for the "religiously outlawed intoxicant" carries an element of danger.
With prose as smooth and satisfying as the finest single malt, he evokes the sights, sounds and even smells of a Cairo cafe, Thai brothel, and the fading opulence of Istanbul's Pera Palace hotel, where Agatha Christie penned Murder On The Orient Express.
He visits a brewery hidden in one of Pakistan's remotest regions, as well as winemakers in Egypt who fear the day when Islamic fundamentalists will tear up their lovingly tended vines.
At times, his story skips continents and decades in a beat, rather like listening to a drunk propping up a bar, but it is all the more beguiling for this.
7/10 (Review by Gill Oliver)
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